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Miriam as Prophet

            In the Holy Bible, there were many people who were considered prophets.  From Abraham to Zechariah, numerous names have been given this title.  Most of the prophets in the Bible were men, but there were also a few women who were bestowed such label.  One of those women was Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron.  In the Bible, she was referred to as a prophetess.  However, should she really be considered a prophet? What makes Miriam a prophet?  This research paper aims to investigate the reasons why Miriam should indeed be considered as a prophet.

            What is a prophet?  In the Bible, what do prophets do?  It is first necessary to define the meaning of the word before one can assess whether or not Miriam should be given that title.  God had prohibited paganism from Israel, and this prohibition meant that oracles were also banned (Calles).  God does not approve of any kind of sorcery, witchcraft or divinations.  According to the Bible, “Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord” (The Devotional Study Bible, Deuteronomy 18:12).  Instead, God had provided his people an extraordinary blessing—prophecy (Calles).

            The biblical definition of word “prophet” goes beyond its accepted meaning.  The general notion behind the word denotes a person with the gift of foretelling the future (Calles).  However, the role of Hebrew prophet is not limited to this.  In the Bible, the Lord said: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deut. 18:18).  From this passage, it can be said that the role of a prophet is to convey God’s message to His people (Calles).

The prophet is a spokesperson for the will of God (“Prophet”).  This person recognized the authority of God and only spoke in His name.  He is the means chosen by God to communicate His Word to the people.  Hence, the title “prophet” can be applied to all those who have conveyed God’s messages to His people (“Prophet”).

Because the prophet is the bearer of the Divine Word, it must be noted that the words of a prophet is not his own but God’s (“Prophet”).  It was written in the Bible that “no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).  This is because “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).  Aside from the declaring God’s will to the people, the prophets were also tasked to direct the people towards the right direction; prophets were expected to encourage the people to do good and avoid evil (“Prophet”).

There are many distinguished prophets throughout the Bible.  These include Abraham, Elijah, Enoch, Asaph and Jeduthun (“Prophet”).  One of the most recognized prophets of the Scriptures was Moses.  He was chosen by God to deliver the Israelites from the oppression they faced under the rule of the Pharaoh (Exodus 3).  He became a prophet when he saw an angel in the burning bush in the mountain of Horeb and heeded God’s call.  God said to Moses: “You are to say everything I command you” (Exodus 7:2).  It was he who communicated God’s orders to the Pharaoh, brought the plagues and led the Israelites in crossing the Red Sea.  Moses was a remarkable example of what a prophet was like.

            Miriam is one of the remarkable women in the Bible.  She only appears several times in the Scriptures, but her importance goes beyond those instances (Matthews).  To begin with, she played a crucial role not only in the life of Moses, but also in the history of Israel.  The Pharaoh issued an order which stated that every girl that was born in Egypt be kept alive but “every boy that is born you must throw in the Nile” (Exodus 1:22).  During that time, a Levite man was married a Levite woman; they were later identified as Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20).  They had a son, and had attempted to hide him from the Egyptians.  After three months, Jochebed was forced to put her son in basket and placed him by the Nile.

In the Bible, it was indicated that the baby’s “sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him” (Exodus 2:4).  The baby was Moses and the sister in question here was Miriam, but she was not yet named.  Though she was nameless character for a while, her character proved to be instrumental in shaping Moses’ destiny.  She watched over her brother to see the outcome of her mother’s decision (“Miriam”).  When she saw that the Pharaoh’s daughter had seen the baby, she immediately offered to look for a Hebrew woman to take care of her (Raver 88).  The Hebrew woman that Miriam had in mind was Jochebed.  Because of Miriam, Moses was still raised by his own mother despite the situation in Egypt (“Miriam”).  Even if she was initially unnamed, Miriam played an important role in the Bible from the very beginning.  Nonetheless, her efforts early on in Moses’ life were not which made her a prophet.

Miriam appears in the Bible for a second time during the parting of the Red Sea.  She was mentioned again after the Israelites had successfully crossed the sea (Murphy 55).  This time, she was called by name.  The very fact that Miriam was identified by name is an important matter.  More often than not, women in the Bible are nameless.  Miriam assumed a relevant role enough to be given a name (Murphy 56).

Miriam is considered a prophet in the Bible.  After the Israelites had passed through dry ground to cross the sea, Moses and the people sung to the Lord in exultation (Exodus 15).  Miriam followed suit, and she was introduced as “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister” (Exodus 15:22).  With a tambourine, she led the women in praising God’s name and rejoicing His blessings.

Why was Miriam called a prophetess? What did she do that made her receive that title?  What were the proofs to verify her gift of prophecy? The first proof is in the Song of Sea (Murphy 55; Exodus 15).  The song itself is one of the oldest songs in the Old Testament and was written in couplet form (Fletcher).  This song followed the format of a poem which commemorated the triumphs and successes in battle.  In this instance, the Song of Sea was in celebration of how God saved the Israelites from their Egyptian oppressors (Exodus 14:30).  The song narrated how God saved His people, and was full of praise for the Lord.  It affirmed God’s power, authority and love for Israel.

It was earlier stated that a prophet was chosen to reveal to the people God’s will for them, as they are the means of communication with God (Calles).  The Song of the Sea was not merely a song of jubilation towards God’s grace; it also retold the events which lead to the salvation of the Israelites.  In that account, the song was an expression of God’s will to the people of Israel.  It spoke of how God punished the Egyptians by drowning them in the Red Sea while He allowed the sea to part to save His people.  Because the song was about the will of God, the singer should be considered a prophet.

While Miriam did lead the women to sing and dance for the Lord, the Song of the Sea was mostly attributed to Moses (Murphy 56).  Since Moses was the singer as indicated in the Bible, then it would only verify his status as prophet.  If that was the case, Miriam is still not a prophet.  In Exodus 15, it was Moses and the Israelites who sung the song at length; Miriam is mentioned later on, and she merely repeats the first four lines (Murphy 55).  However, research by biblical scholars note that Miriam was indeed voice behind the Song of the Sea (Murphy 56).  According to scholars, Miriam sung the Song of the Sea as indicated in the ancient traditions of Israel.  An earlier version of the Exodus story was found in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it revealed that Miriam had sung a song which was longer than the part attributed to her in the Bible.  With the scrolls as proof, Miriam should then be considered a prophet as she was originally the voice behind the Song of the Sea which expressed God’s will to his people.  This is probably the reason why Miriam was first acknowledged as a prophetess even before Moses was referred to as a prophet (Murphy 56).

A prophet is not only a man or woman of words; he or she must also be a person of action.  A prophet is also assigned by God to lead the people towards the good and prevent them from committing immoral acts.  Miriam should be considered as a prophet because she led the people of Israel towards God.  The Lord said to His people: “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.  I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam” (Micah 6:4).  This passage proves the fact that Miriam was also a leader chosen by God.

The leadership of Miriam was not as distinguished as the leadership of Moses, for he was the central figure in the Book of Exodus.  The available accounts of Miriam in the Bible are fewer than those indicated in the history of the Hebrews (Fletcher).  This is the reason why the leadership of Miriam was not fully described and could only be understood in a limited perspective.  However, even if the leadership of Miriam was overshadowed by that of Moses, it does not make her less relevant (“Miriam”).  Miriam was still a leader of the Israelites, just like Moses and Aaron.

 As was indicated in Micah 6:4, Miriam, Moses and Aaron were the leaders chosen by God to free the Israelites (Raver 88).  In reality there were three leaders, making the liberation of the people of Israel a family affair.  Among the three, Moses was shown as the prophet of God.  However, the Scriptures also reveal Aaron’s participation in saving the Israelites.  When the Lord chose Moses in Exodus 4, the latter was hesitant because he was doubtful of his eloquence.  The Lord then suggested that Aaron also be part of the His plan for the Israelites.  The Lord said to Moses: “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well” (Exodus 4:14).  Soon after, Moses and Aaron were both involved in the plan to liberate the Israelites from the Pharaoh.  Unfortunately, the biblical accounts only showed Miriam after the people of Israel has been liberated.  As a result, Miriam as a leader was not fully illustrated.

The lack of biblical evidence does not disprove the fact that Miriam was indeed a leader.  In every step of the journey towards the freedom of the people of Israel, Miriam was present.  Though unmentioned in the Bible, Miriam was with her brothers when the plagues occurred (“Miriam”).  She was there when Moses ushered the people out of Egypt.  She witnessed first hand how the Red Sea was parted and along with the others, walked on dry land to cross the sea.  She was also there when the people proceeded to the Desert of Shur (Murphy 57).  Her presence in these events was not documented, as the accounts of her leadership were not fully discussed in the Bible.  The only account of leadership that was evident in the Bible was when she led the women to sing and dance in the name of the Lord after they crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:21).

The leadership of Miriam was similar to the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  As prophets, they were tasked to lead the people into goodness and away from evil.  This was contrary to how leadership was during their time.  In ancient times, the rulers led their people in a different way.  The means of leadership were force and fear (Fletcher).  They intimidated their subjects and instilled fear in their hearts so that they would be obeyed.  When their demands were not met, they would use might to show their authority.  In addition, they would make the lives of their subjects difficult to assert their power (Fletcher).  This was how the Pharaoh led his people.

Miriam and her brothers were a different kind of leader.  They were more effective in leading the people, and they need not resort to force or fear to establish authority.  Their effectiveness as leaders relied on the fact that they were good examples to the people they led (Fletcher).  They lived their lives in a way that people could emulate; it is the example they set for the people which is their means of leadership (Fletcher).

Though God made them leaders of the people of Israel, Miriam and her brothers never went beyond their responsibilities.  They remained true to their task as merely leaders; they simply pointed the people of Israel in the direction that God wanted them to take.  It was the authority of God that they have shown, instead of asserting their own authority.  They never assumed the role of ruler and the Israelites were never their subjects (Fletcher).  The fact that they did not abuse their power made them a remarkable leader.

Another remarkable trait of Miriam and her brothers as leader was their execution of God’s will (Fletcher).  As prophets of God, they followed God’s orders to the letter.  Their actions were in accordance with what they thought God wanted.  They led the people of Israel according to God’s will but did not take advantage of the situation.  Given the authority that they had, they could have easily abused their power and served their selfish ends.  That was not the case for Miriam or her brothers.  Their personal needs and wants came only second to their responsibility for God (Fletcher).  They put aside their own concerns and focused on what God had told them to do.  Miriam and her brothers were remarkable leaders because they were loyal and faithful to God.  This is because despite being leaders themselves, they still remained followers of God.  The only way a leader can effectively lead is when he follows the will of God.

Indeed, Miriam should be considered as prophet because she was a leader of the people of Israel.  She was not as prominent as Moses, but still she was a leader.  It was her role in leading the people of Israel towards the will of God that made her a prophet.  She should be considered a prophet as she, along with Moses and Aaron, delivered the Israelites from bondage (Raver 91).  Coincidentally, it was the question of leadership which led to her punishment.

Miriam reappears in the Bible in the Book of Numbers (Raver 91).  Again, she is proven as a prophet in this instance.  In Numbers 12, Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses on grounds of his marriage to a Cushite woman.  The attack against Moses, as initiated by Miriam, was a result of her pride as a prophet (Gardner 298).  There is a passage in the Bible which provides proof that Miriam should be considered a prophet.  In the Bible, Miriam and Aaron asked: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken to us?” (Numbers 12:12).  This question verifies the prophetic position of Miriam.  In this passage she challenges the status of Moses as prophet because God also spoke to them.  Miriam and Aaron were prophets, but they were under the prophetic influence of Moses (Fletcher).  Both of them were overshadowed by the prominence of Moses; Moses seemed to be the only representative of the Lord.  The problem with Miriam was that she was proud of herself as an instrument of God, and that pride made her question God’s decision (Gardner 298).

Miriam, Moses and Aaron were prophets of God.  They were leaders in their own right.  It was the issue of leadership that caused the conflict between them and resulted in Miriam’s punishment (Murphy 57).  Miriam desired to be acknowledged as equal to Moses in terms of being a prophet (Raver 91).  Her rebellion was brought about by her wish to prophesize in the name of the Lord the same way Moses did (Gardner 298).  Unfortunately, Miriam’s wish was not possible.  Though she and Aaron also worked under God’s authority, it was implied in the Numbers 12 that Moses was the Lord’s chosen prophet (Raver 91).  This choice meant that she could never be Moses’ equal, as God preferred Moses to lead his people.

The desire of Miriam to assume a more prominent role as a prophet caused her to be punished by God.  Even though Miriam and Aaron both challenged Moses’ authority, it was only Miriam who was punished (Murphy 57).  Her inquiry about God speaking only to Moses was answered in the form of a skin disease (Raver 91).  According to the Bible, “When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, like snow” (Num 12:10).  God answered her through punishment.

Another reason why Miriam should be considered as a prophet is because her gift of prophecy was recognized by the people.  It was easy to assume that Miriam was a prophet because she was introduced as a prophetess.  However, the title itself is not enough.  In Numbers 20, it was the people of Israel themselves who recognized the role of Miriam as prophet.  When God punished her with leprosy, she was forced to hide from the people for seven days (Raver 91).  Her time away from the people of Israel did not diminish her influence on them.  In the Bible, it was stated that “the people did not move on until she was brought back” (Num 20:15).  The absence of Miriam in her days of leprosy was felt by the Israelites, and they waited for her return (Raver 91).  The Bible only mentioned Miriam’s leadership when she led the women in the celebration of the freedom of Israel, but the response of the people to her absence reveals that she has done more than the biblical texts show (Gardner 298).

After Miriam was punished by God with leprosy, she only again appeared in the Bible when she died.  In the Bible, it was written as such: “There Miriam died and was buried. Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron” (Num 20:1-2).  Throughout the Scriptures, water played a role in the accounts of Miriam (Fletcher; Murphy 57).  She first appeared in the Bible when baby Moses was brought to the river.  She then led the people into a song of worship after the Red Sea parted.  Water also played a part in her death.  When she died, water was scarce.  Biblical scholars revealed that the scarcity of water may have been a sign of mourning for Miriam’s passing (Murphy 57).

Lastly, Miriam should be considered a prophet because she was the “founder of the female prophetic tradition” (Gardner 299).  There are many male prophets in the Bible, but only a few prophetesses.  Miriam was one of them.  She was the first, and she paved the way for other prophetesses to be known in the Scriptures.  Other prophetesses in the Bible include Deborah, Huldah and Anna (“Prophet”).  Just like Miriam, these women were blessed by God with the gift of prophecy (Cales).  However, it is important to note that there was a false prophetess in the Bible; there are also those who are referred to as a “prophetess” because she was a wife of a prophet (“Prophet”).  Nonetheless, Miriam is a female prophet in the real sense of the word.  She stood out in the women of the Bible because was chosen by God for a patriotic function (Raver 91).  While most women in the Bible fulfilled matriarchal roles by giving birth to sons, Miriam gave birth to an independent nation.  Miriam was tasked, along with Moses and Aaron, to liberate a nation.  She should be considered a prophet for doing so.

  There are many reasons why Miriam should be considered a prophet.  A prophet is defined as one who communicates to the people in behalf of the Lord and leads His people to His will.  This prophet is to deliver God’s Word to the people; the prophet does not interpret God’s words as he reveals the words of God and not his own.  A prophet also leads to the people to God’s path.

Miriam is a prophet on two accounts.  First, she was chosen by God to be an instrument to communicate His Word and will to the people.  Miriam, along with Moses and Aaron, were tasked to convey the Lord’s wishes to the people of Israel.  Miriam’s role as the Lord’s means of communication to the people was not as evident as the role of Moses.  However, the lack of biblical evidence does not mean that Miriam did not fulfill that role.  She was a spokeswoman for God as revealed in the Song of the Sea.  Second, Miriam was a prophet because she led the people towards the will of the Lord.  The Lord wanted to liberate the people of Israel from Egyptian oppression.  Her leadership was most evident when she led the women to rejoice the salvation of Israel through song and dance.  Hence, Miriam should indeed be considered as a prophet.

Works Cited

Calles, Jean Marie. “Prophecy, Prophet and Prophetess.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. 15 Oct. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12477a.htm>.

Fletcher, Elizabeth. “Miriam.” Women in the Bible. 2008. 15 Oct. 2008 <http://www.womeninthebible.net/1.7.Miriam.htm>.

Gardner, Joseph L., ed. Who’s Who in the Bible. New York: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1994.

Matthews, Mary. The Prophet Miriam. 2008. 15 Oct. 2008 < http://www.extremelysmart.com/nokidding/learned/miriamln.htm>.

“Miriam.” The Living Word Library. 2008. 15 Oct. 2008 <http://www.wordlibrary.co.uk/article.php?id=163>.

Murphy, Cullen. The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books, 1998.

“Prophet.” WebBible Encyclopedia. 15 Oct. 2008 <http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/prophet.html>.

Raver, Miki. Listen to Her Voice: Women of the Hebrew Bible. California: Chronicle Books, 2005.

The Devotional Study Bible. Japan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1987.

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